Sing Street

For F*** Magazine

SING STREET

Director : John Carney
Cast : Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Karl Rice, Ian Kenny, Don Wycherly, Lydia McGuinness
Genre : Drama/Musical
Run Time : 1 hr 46 mins
Opens : 28 July 2016
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)

Sing Street posterAfter a brief sojourn into Hollywood glamour, writer-director John Carney returns to the green, green grass (and cigarette butt-strewn alleyways) of home with this musical comedy-drama.

It is 1985 in inner-city Dublin and Conor Lalor (Walsh-Peelo) is the new kid at Synge Street CBS, having switched schools due to his family’s financial difficulties. Conor’s dad Robert (Gillen) and his mum Penny (Doyle Kennedy) are constantly at each other’s throats, Conor’s elder brother Brendan (Reynor) and sister Ann (Thornton) caught in the crossfire. In the hopes of impressing Raphina (Boynton), an aspiring model on whom Conor immediately develops a crush on, he forms a band. The enterprising Darren (Carolan) positions himself as the band’s manager and introduces Conor to talented multi-instrumentalist Eamon (McKenna), who begins to collaborate with Conor on writing songs. Roping in other Synge Street students, the group calls themselves ‘Sing Street’, with Raphina becoming the star of their music videos and their makeup artist. With input from Brendan, the band experiments with looks and styles as Conor runs afoul of principal Brother Baxter (Wycherly) and comes to terms with his affections for Raphina.

Sing Street the band rehearsing

Carney’s calling card is 2006’s Once, the breakthrough indie sensation that was eventually adapted into a stage musical which swept the Tony Awards. As alluded to earlier, Carney hopped the pond for Begin Again, set in the L.A. music business and starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine. Sing Street strikes a happy medium between the grainy guerrilla filmmaking of Once and the glossy polish of Begin Again. The coming-of-age tale is a straightforward and familiar one, but is told with boundless conviction and earnestness. Synge Street was Carney’s boyhood alma mater, and it’s abundantly evident that this is a heartfelt personal project. Sing Street’s spirited optimism is tempered with honest observations of how young Dubliners were migrating en masse to England in the 80s, fearing their lack of prospects back home. The phrase “feel-good movie” is wont to induce an eye-roll or two, but Carney doesn’t so much melt away the viewer’s cynicism as disintegrate it with a blowtorch.

Sing Street the band performing Riddle of the Model

Carney recently came under fire for his unflinching criticism of Knightley, saying “I’ll never make a film with supermodels again.” He’s since apologised for those comments and in the light of that, it seems Carney is more at ease working with relative unknowns. In Walsh-Peelo, he has found an endearing star brimming with “aww shucks” charm. There’s nothing phony about Walsh-Peelo and in portraying Conor’s tentative steps in his journey of self-discovery and through the garden of young love, the actor never overplays Conor’s awkwardness. That said, it’s rather convenient how Conor goes from guessing at guitar chords to a fairly proficient lead singer and guitarist pretty much overnight.

Sing Street Lucy Boynton and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo

Audiences have become all too painfully wary of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, so rest assured that through Carney’s writing and Boynton’s winning portrayal, Raphina is very much an actual character. Instead of being an icy unattainable trophy, Raphina quickly becomes invested in Conor’s musical endeavours and the romance between the two unfolds in an idealised yet believable fashion. Reynor may have come off as a generic pretty-boy in Transformers: Age of Extinction, but as the disaffected ne’er-do-well who disguises his love for his brother in snarky aloofness, he is the bearer of the film’s most emotional moments.

SING STREET

Sidekick/wingman duty is shared mainly among Carolan’s Darren and McKenna’s Eamon, and cheesy though it may sound, there’s an irrepressible joy to be had in seeing like-minded friends join hands in pursuit of a common dream. Gillen’s presence is a mite distracting to anyone who can’t see him as anyone but Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger. It’s also a bit of a missed opportunity that Doyle Kennedy, a singer-songwriter who broke into acting with The Commitments (to which Sing Street has been favourably compared), doesn’t get to break into song herself.

Sing Street walking

The nostalgia that permeates Sing Street is justifiable at every turn and it never feels like Carney is invoking beloved 80s pop culture hallmarks just for the sake of it. A large part of the movie’s appeal can be found in its cultural specificity, but the story’s bell-like resonance transcends any such boundaries. Songs from Duran Duran, The Cure and Hall & Oates populate the soundtrack, sitting alongside original compositions by Carney, 80s pop composer Gary Clark, Northern Irish rock band Relish’s Ken and Carl Papenfus as well as Graham Henderson and Zamo Riffman. Adam Levine co-wrote and performs the song Go Now, for this reviewer at least, his involvement undercuts the authenticity somewhat.

Sing Street the band posing

Oddly enough, Sing Street reminded this reviewer of Super 8: both films are coming-of-age tales revolving around artistic pursuits, affectionate throwbacks to a bygone era infused with nostalgia. Instead of B-movies, the kids here are making their own music videos, and it’s served with more potatoes and less alien monster mayhem. Reminiscent of John Hughes’ work in the best possible way while also proudly and unmistakably Irish, Sing Street is a joyous ode to being young and foolish.

Sing Street the band posing 2Summary: This heartfelt tale of music makers and dreamers of dreams will put a song in your heart and a spring in your step.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Transformers: Age of Extinction

For F*** Magazine

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Director : Michael Bay
Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Kelsey Grammer, Li Bingbing, Sophia Myles, Titus Welliver, T. J. Miller and the voices of: Peter Cullen, Robert Foxworth, John Goodman, John DiMaggio, Ken Watanabe, Frank Welker
Genre : Action, Sci-Fi
Opens : 26 June 2014
Running time: 165 mins

Lord Bay of House Boom has returned locked and loaded for the fourth live-action Transformers film despite saying he would quit the franchise, this time with a new human cast. It has been four years since Chicago was decimated in the battle between Autobots and Decepticons and the U. S. government has decided to end their partnership with the Autobots, declaring them enemies. CIA official Harold Attinger (Grammer) is in charge of hunting them down, engaging the services of mercenary Savoy (Welliver) and ruthless Decepticon bounty hunter Lockdown (Ryan). Joshua Joyce (Tucci), owner of tech giant KSI, has a lucrative government contract to manufacture man-made facsimiles of the Transformers by reverse-engineering captured and dismantled Autobots and Decepticons. Meanwhile, Texan inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), his best friend Lucas (Miller), his daughter Tessa (Peltz) and Tessa’s boyfriend Shane (Reynor) get drawn into the conflict when they unwittingly come into the possession of a beat-up old truck that just happens to be Optimus Prime (Cullen) himself. With the extinction of humanity imminent, Optimus and the remaining Autobots must defeat Attinger and the Decepticons in pursuit.

            Tennis champ Boris Becker said “you get used to eating caviar and at some point it tastes as ordinary as everything else.” In the context of action movies, explosions are akin to caviar. More doesn’t necessarily mean better, but director Michael Bay has wilfully rejected this notion and continues to stuff his films with more and more. He promised a “less goofy” outing but as this reviewer has learnt the hard way, a Michael Bay cannot change his spots. The elements in the second and third films that led to them being critically panned are still here, just in slightly more controlled doses. There’s still juvenile humour, there’s still racism and sexism, there’s still obnoxious product placement, the action scenes are still overwhelming flurries of whirling, clanging metal, it’s just reined in a bit and therefore slightly more tolerable than before. Bumblebee still talks using voice clips. Instead of an annoying actual dog, there’s an annoying homemade robot dog. Instead of Linkin Park, there’s Imagine Dragons. The film’s stabs at self-aware winking at the audience (an elderly movie theatre proprietor bemoans how all major releases are remakes and sequels) are more awkward and on the nose than anything else.

            Apologists of this film series have often used the “this is not Citizen Kane” argument. Well, even Citizen Kane had a running time of 119 minutes. This bad boy clocks in at 165 minutes, the longest Transformers movie yet. It’s overkill. Were this around 100 minutes long, we might’ve been really entertained. Still, there are definitely parts of the movie to commend. Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger have decided to make the human villain a CIA official, which combined with the decreased role of the military, makes this less of a jingoism party than the earlier films in the series. Having human scientists attempting to create their own Transformers without comprehending the danger and complexity of the technology is a perfectly viable angle to come at the story from, if somewhat Terminator-esque. And best of all, our protagonist is no longer the useless, unbearably annoying Sam Witwicky.


            Mark Wahlberg is certainly an upgrade from Shia LaBeouf, even if Marky Mech doesn’t break into an off-key rendition of the Transformers theme song “The Touch” like in Boogie Nights. Cade Yeager is a bundle of clichés: All-American everyman turned hero, amateur inventor whose workshop is filled with knick-knacks plus he’s an over-protective single dad who utterly disapproves of his daughter’s boyfriend just on principle. But Wahlberg being significantly less punch-worthy than LaBeouf makes a difference. Nicola Peltz of The Last Airbender infamy fulfils the pre-requisites of being the female lead in this series: she can’t act and she rocks the Daisy Dukes. Reynor is a typical modern Hollywood imported pretty-boy; some kind of attempt made at explaining away the Irish actor’s accent – Cade ends up disparagingly referring to his would-be son-in-law as “Lucky Charms”. Once again, at least he’s significantly less annoying than Shia LaBeouf.

            While Stanley Tucci is subjected to a good deal of embarrassment as a send-up of tech icons like Steve Jobs, he is spared the depths of indignity that the likes of John Turturro and John Malkovich suffered in the previous movies. Kelsey Grammer takes his role as primary human antagonist surprisingly seriously and his frighteningly pragmatic Attinger is a bright spot in the film, so many steps up from Patrick Dempsey in Dark of the Moon. Titus Welliver is also quite imposing and the sequence in which he pursues Cade as they cling to the exterior of a Hong Kong apartment building is plenty of fun. As the head of KSI in China, Li Bingbing is the stock boss lady and without Sally Cahill to dub over her like in Resident Evil: Retribution, she valiantly battles the English language. The voice acting is good as well, not only is definitive Optimus Prime performer Peter Cullen back, but the legendary Frank Welker reprises his role as Galvatron from the various animated series. Thankfully, Ken Watanabe and John Goodman’s distinct voices are still recognizable even after being treated with that robot voice filter. Watanabe also gets to deliver the film’s funniest line, Drift’s reaction upon first seeing the Dinobots transform.

            One thing has been true about this series: no matter how bad the rest of the film gets, the visual effects work certainly can’t be faulted and we’d like to salute visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar and the armies of artists and technicians who brought the Autobots, Decepticons and those fan-favourite Dinobots to life. Amidst the bombast, we also get genuinely beautiful shots, like those of the Autobots convening in Monument Valley and a shot in which Lockdown’s ship is reflected in Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture. We saw this in IMAX 3D and even though it is often pretty to look at, the constantly shifting aspect ratios can be very distracting. Transformers: Age of Extinction is more bearable than Revenge of the Fallenand Dark of the Moon, albeit certainly not the paradigm shift in quality it is touted to be. But hey, this is a movie with a humanoid robot semi-truck astride a giant robot T-rex charging into battle, so it’s not like anything we say matters too much anyway.

SUMMARY: While relatively better than its predecessors thanks to more likeable leads and less superfluous subplots, many of the problems that plagued the earlier Transformers movies are still very present throughout the 165 minute duration.

Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor and Nicola Peltz do not love the smell of napalm any time of the day.



RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong